The Great Debate UK

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: practising peace

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Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let's start with the positives.

Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's impromptu  invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week's India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.  The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February.  In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.

Moreover, the Indian prime minister is personally committed to pursuing peace in the time he has left before a national election due by 2014.  And while last year he was isolated even within his own party in his enthusiasm for peace - an idea that still lingers in some quarters - his  initiative  appears to enjoy the support of powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Outlook magazine, writing about his cricket diplomacy, noted that Singh was flanked by Gandhi and her son and prime-minister- in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, when he welcomed Gilani on his first official visit to India.

The Pakistan Army, which dominates foreign and security policy in Pakistan, has also been slowly reassessing its approach to Islamist militants it once nurtured for use against India as they slip increasingly out of its control. How far that reassessment goes is open to debate;  but few doubt that Gilani would have accepted Singh's invitation to India to explore peace talks had this not been endorsed by the army.

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